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City purchase includes Metro parks money to save stands of trees from development

PMG FILE PHOTO - Gresham City Council has unanimously approved the purchase of Shaull Woods. After months of community advocacy, Gresham City Council voted unanimously to save a strand of Douglas fir trees from being felled by a developer.

During a meeting Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 17, council approved allocation of $2.675 million to acquire the 7.82-acre property at 3535 W. Powell Boulevard, known colloquially as Shaull Woods. The decision protects stands of trees and adjacent wetlands, and sets the stage for future trail development and education opportunities.

"A lot of us put a lot of work into this," said Council President Eddy Morales. "We reached out to the community, did weekly calls, to save these woods."

It has been a controversial and complicated saga for the forested site. Though initially intended to be folded into the adjacent Fairview Creek Headwaters wetlands and Southwest Community Park, it was instead sold to Bend developer SGS LLC, which had designs to build 30 homes at the site.

That proposed development led to an uproar, and the city worked with the developer to buy the property.

On June 15, the city signed a purchase and sale agreement with the property owner. As part of the purchase, the developer was required to clean the site of accumulated trash and debris, remove hazardous materials and demolish existing structures.

The property cost $2.5 million, with an additional $175,000 for the cleaning of the site. The money comes from the city's $5.4 million share of the 2019 Metro Parks and Nature Bond. Early this year, community members helped guide the prioritization of projects, with the vast majority calling for it to be used to reclaim Shaull Woods.

In addition, the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District is contributing $200,000 to the purchase.

Sen. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, and Rep. Ricki Ruiz, D-Gresham, both committed $500,000 and $200,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding respectively, but the timing of that funding might not allow for its use.

The city is working to close the sale by Sept. 15, with an option to extend to Nov. 1. Upon taking ownership, the city will assess the health of the trees and determine whether some need to be removed for the safety of park visitors.

"Once the property is cleaned up and in public possession we can celebrate," Morales said.

With the purchase, the city of Gresham can prevent the largest stand of Douglas fir from being removed. It also ensures there will be no development-related impacts on the adjacent wetlands, which is home to native reptiles like the western painted turtle; amphibians; and a multitude of water birds like wood ducks, blue herons and common yellowthroats.

The city plans to work with experts to design nature experiences for park visitors while continuing to protect the wildlife. That could include viewing areas, educational kiosks or established trails.

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